Back in 2011 True Clothing went up in flames. The two-alarm fire claimed the shop itself, a lot of merchandise as well as a lot of memories. Out of the ash and rubble, a few of those memories survived.

 This one was a little bizarre. We carried an old school SF Giants jacket back then. People came in and out as they do and somewhere in there one of those people was Mos Def. He skated up to the shop and absolutely needed that jacket. He came in, threw it on the counter and paid full price. A lot of famous people that roll through to the shop expect a hookup or free shit. Mos was different. That moment was bizarre in that it all happened so fast: he pulled up on the skateboard, B-lined to the jacket, threw it on the counter, paid for it, said peace, then hopped on his skateboard and floated out. Mos wasn’t a stranger to the shop though. He and a select group of others would routinely but randomly pop up throughout the years. If you check out the video for 1998’s “Travellin’ Man,” about a minute in, Mos is seen wearing one of the original True tees while fixing himself in the mirror.

Since it opened in ’96, the shop and Hip Hop have had a close and thorough relationship with one another. This is a beacon of small business in SF and somehow someway it survived a lot, including both a gutting of everything we know and associate with the city as well as the literal elements. In dedication to this idea of small business, perseverance, and lasting memories, I’ve got 42 polaroids in the chamber and 42 stories attached to them. Stay tuned for more surprises.

Shoutouts to Josh for the story!

Nobody wins when the family feuds.

Invited for an early viewing of the Oakland Museum of California’s latest exhibit, I didn’t know what to expect. Hip Hop in 2018 is filled with tension. Right down to its atoms, modern American culture is characterized by a stark defiance of the old and conventional and what’s thumping out of our speakers is just one showcase. Respect: Hip Hop Style & Wisdom is an exhibit that covers the genre with at least 50 years of context. Hip Hop is no longer an infant art form. That’s an important fact to consider when judging what the genre means in 2018.

Jay-Z’s words about nobody winning when we’re all bickering is so indicative of the times. And thankfully this tribute housed in the Oakland Museum is absent of that tension. This is a happy home; a celebration of a culture. I saw a couple of kids running around and couldn’t help but think that, at the rate things are moving, they’re just a blink away from telling their own experiences; pieces of this one greater experience we all seem to be involved in. It is this experience, this thing that is bigger than any one of us, that I felt walking into the building. One can’t know where they’re going without first knowing where they come from so I can’t stress enough how important it is to give the youth a home such as this.

I think it’s important to look at exactly where we’re from. One of the most notable features of this exhibit is how far back in time it stretches. To give us context on the chain of events that led to Hip Hop, it starts as far back as 1964: referencing the Civil Rights Act, Malcolm X’s assassination, televised James Brown performances, the national platform Soul Train gave to Black musicians and pop-lockers, the founding of the Black Arts Movement, as well as the Black Panthers. Art movements like Afrofuturism, involving Parliament Funkadelic among others, are noted as prototypes to the style of Hip Hop that directly followed. One of the pieces read “race riots erupt across America over police violence and segregated schools, and a generation of student-activists and radicals create new approaches to liberation struggles.” There was already a great deal of experimentation going on in the art world as well as a laundry list of social issues that demanded new forms of expression and it is this context that really gives Hip Hop weight. It was never just music. It is part of a long lineage of Black American expression in a country that suppressed it at all cost.

I think it’s important to look at exactly where we’re at. As of this year Hip Hop is the most popular genre of music in the country. Once labelled a passing fad, then turned the perpetual underdog, I’m sure anyone that witnessed its infancy didn’t quite see all of this coming. This is an American-bred worldwide phenomena. It is bigger than just a genre of music. It always was. It was at one point in time a fever in the underground; a well-kept secret way of speaking, of moving, of dressing, and of sounding. That fever spread above ground and got an iron grip on anything it touched. It is bigger than a genre of music. It is a sport: a constant debate of who put up the biggest numbers, who had the biggest moments, who put on for theirs the hardest. It is a business: revolutionizing entrepreneurship, branding, technology, and inspiring generations to get up, get out, and get something. It is an all-encompassing art form: completely flipping  fashion, film, language, stage design, theatre, and culture as a whole on its head. Hip Hop is unique in that it is, for example, the only genre of music to receive open invitations to the most illustrious House in the country but still never dull its rebellious edge. As it reaches the heights of capitalistic success, we see acts like former FBI target Dr. Dre peaking on billion dollar net worths while mentoring acts like Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar whose “we gon’ be alright” chant was a staple for grassroots rallies like Black Lives Matter. All of a sudden Eric B & Rakim come to mind.

 

“Thinking of a master plan

Cause ain’t nothing but sweat inside my hand

So I dig into my pocket, all my money spent

So I dig deeper, but still coming up with lint

So I start my mission, leave my residence

Thinking, “How could I get some dead presidents?””

 

Looking back on it, those lines almost feel like a mission statement. Fast-forward 30 years and Hip Hop resembles some kind of Robin Hood-style figure. It took change from the industry but, as profitable as it grew, still retains an air of rebellion and a voice for the unheard and underdogged.

In 2018 Hip Hop still challenges the status quo.

We are part of something bigger than ourselves.

I had the pleasure of chopping it up with a man by the name of E Bone. Born and raised in San Francisco, he comes from a long lineage of San Franciscans. He told stories of his roots. His grandfather was part of a 1950’s gang on Fillmore called the War Demons. Fillmore was considered the “Harlem of the West” back then, notable for its jazz music and Black and Brown presence. The next generation down his uncle Anthony followed suit. His uncle made good friends with a man who looked up to him and would go on to name his son after him. That son is Anthony Fort, better known as Rappin Forte. When I entered the exhibit, there were clips of a music video by Drake, the Toronto artist who rapped a handful of Forte’s bars on what would become a smash single. The reach on this thing we’re involved in goes far, is what I’m saying. E. talked about people he knew who told stories about Too $hort’s hustle. In this decade Too $hort is still relevant, collaborating with contemporary acts such as Pittsburgh’s Wiz Khalifa, Virginia’s Chris Brown, Cleveland’s Kid Cudi, and Oakland’s G-Eazy. He was just a young hustler at one point selling out of his trunk and 30 years later his presence is fresh and the blueprint he laid down is standard and expected. The Bay is one of the many areas to get infected by this bug that started as our own little thing and now kids that were born the year some of these artists popped grabbed the baton and ran with it on a global scale. E. and his people in the Fillmore took part in a ripple effect that changed the course of history. That’s some shit.

You really need to see the exhibit for yourself. I was overwhelmed immediately when I walked in and couldn’t absorb it all in the two hours we were allotted. There is visual art, video installations, audio installations, interactive DJ stations, vintage clothing, a mock barber shop, images of old Oakland, images of new Oakland, and much much more. And a low rider. There is so much to it that I assume any one person’s given experience may drastically differ from the person they stand next to. Having my fingers on the pulse and knowing the overarching conversation and concerns regarding the state of Hip Hop, the idea of old vs. new, and this being a transitionary period in the genre with a very stark divide between the two, it is amazing to experience a moment of coexistence and celebration.

Thank you so much to the Oakland Museum for the invitation.

Thank you forever to the pioneers, much love to those carrying the torch, and RIP to everyone that passed.

Peace!

 

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This is the tale of two boys and the Queensbridge projects.

Imagine a child prodigy surfacing in the middle of one of the roughest hoods in New York during one of the roughest times in Black America. Nas was just 17 when his journey started and what he went on to lay down rippled outward throughout the whole of New York and forced grown men to completely switch their styles up or fall victim to natural selection. There was New York Hip Hop in ‘93 and then there was New York Hip Hop in ‘94 and beyond.  Nobody could touch Nas in ’94 and they knew it.

Illmatic was the Manhattan Project.

Not unlike the WWII scientists huddled together to create the ultimate weapon, Nas’s debut was the culmination of the best minds in Hip Hop developing the ultimate album that, like that nuclear bomb, was the first of its kind. Fuck it, let’s not even call these guys artists. They were scientists.

 

“My window faces shootouts, drug overdoses

Live amongst no roses, only the drama

For real, a nickel-plate is my fate, my medicine is the ganja”


There is DJ Premier. One half of the duo Gang Starr, in 1994 he is in the middle of one of his career highs, refining the boom-bap. His production starts to take on qualities that feel like the touch of cold steel, the smack of concrete, the rattling of train rails; a sonic depiction of the opaque black and white photography that makes the city of New York pop in a way unparalleled.

 

“Wipe the sweat off my dome, spit the phlegm on the streets

Suede Timbs on my feet makes my cipher complete”


There is Pete Rock. at this point he is not but a year removed from contributing one of the greatest songs of the genre, They Reminisce Over You, with his partner C.L. Smooth. Pete is a true to form crate digger, notably pulling a lot of his sound from the Jazz age; a passed baton from New York’s very potent musical roots.

 

“I had to school him, told him don’t let niggas fool him

‘Cause when the pistol blows

The one that’s murdered be the cool one”


There is Q-Tip. With A Tribe Called Quest, by this time he is fresh off of one of the most untouchable runs in Hip Hop: their first three albums People’s Instinctive Travels & The Paths Of Rhythm, The Low End Theory, and Midnight Marauders. I always think of Q-Tip as a painter that makes beats. Each and every production has an array of colors portrayed through sound; a character of its own that could speak without words if there weren’t words present.

 

Deep like The Shining, sparkle like a diamond

Sneak a Uzi on the island in my army jacket linin’”

 

There is Large Professor. Also hailing from Queensbridge, this was his first venture into a production with his name on it. His ghost production is attached to such heavy hitters as Eric B & Rakim and Kool G Rap & DJ Polo at the time he breaks a young Nas onto the scene by way of his group Main Source. At this junction, his most notable beats consist of a certain bounce and in-your-face energy.

 

“Now it’s all about cash in abundance

Niggas I used to run with is rich or doin’ years in the hundreds”

 

L.E.S is a relatively unknown producer at this point. Having grown up with Nas in the Queensbridge projects, he shares a certain youthful hunger and talent with a production style that at times feels lush, regal, and syrupy. And much like Nas, this album goes on to set the tone of the rest of his career.

This is the tale of two boys: Nasir Jones & his right hand man Ill Will. Much to his mother’s dismay, Nas dropped out of school in the 8th grade and started running the streets. His development from that point almost mirrors this decision. An avid reader, he decided to chase knowledge on his own accord. We are far removed from it and able to see it perhaps more clearly now, but Nas’s lyrics were a marriage of his experiences on the street in regards to violence, death, drugs, and poverty with the verbal dexterity and broad worldview he developed with his nose in the books. His whole outlook evolved in a different way than most, as did his ability to articulate it. As he started to show promise on the mic and locked in with his DJ Ill Will, excited to one day pop, Will was shot to death in the Queensbridge projects. Death is part of a natural cycle intertwined with birth, I heard somewhere. Enter MC Serch of the Hip Hop group 3rd Bass.

 

“Another dose and you might be dead

And I’m a Nike head

I wear chains that excite the feds.”

 

Nas already had a natural buzz. Locked in with Large Professor and Main Source, he delivered scene-stealing performances on “Live At The BBQ” and what was essentially Illmatic’s first single “Halftime.” Anyone in New York attuned to the culture was buggin. Just a peak at the young man’s potential had the city buzzing. Something was incubating and anyone with an ear and an eye could see it. Serch was that person. 3rd Bass separated and he worked on a solo album. Nas was unsigned with a demo sitting idly in the background. After getting rejected by Russell Simmons over at Def Jam among other labels, Serch linked him up with Faith Newman, an A&R at Sony As executive producer for the project, he used his pull together the beatmaking dream team.

I get genuinely excited when anyone tells me they haven’t listened to Illmatic. One only gets to hear something for the first time on the first time and my first time changed my life. And how exciting is it that there are people out there walking around with that same experience ahead of them? This is one of the most fabled stories in Hip Hop. They call this album the Hip Hop bible. It was as if all of what came before it was inevitably leading up toward it. He mastered the diction of Rakim, the stream-like flow of Kool G Rap, Slick Rick’s storytelling, Big Daddy Kane’s smoothness, and KRS One’s aggression.

It received the coveted 5 mics in The Source.

Listen to Jay-Z before Illmatic dropped. Listen to Mobb Deep before Illmatic dropped. Listen to Biggie before Illmatic dropped. Listen to Wu Tang before Illmatic dropped. Listen to Fat Joe before Illmatic dropped. All of New York evolved once it encountered Nas’s blueprint. Throughout its history, rap took different shapes as an art form. It went through a lot of phases and picked up different tools along the way. Illmatic was a very valuable tool. From the level of lyricism and detail to the production as well as the executive production. The concept of pulling together an album produced by all of the hottest super-producers of the era was not common. The genre was pretty uniform with its one rapper, one producer format. It set the trend for rappers to turn their baby pictures into album covers; almost an unspoken statement that says ‘this is the one, this is the album.’

And it was the one. It was the album. Everyone in that studio knew what it was when the dust settled. It was if they were all possessed for those sessions; commanded by something bigger than themselves.  Death is part of a natural cycle intertwined with birth. Nas decided to name the album Illmatic.  Born from the loss of his best friend Ill Will. 

DJ Premier once talked about how Nas didn’t know how he wanted to perform on NY State Of Mind. “I don’t know how to start this shit, yo” are some of the first words heard. Apparently they used that exact first take. The story goes as soon as he opened his mouth and spit the very first bars for what was about to be the best Hip Hop album of all time, everyone in the room realized what they all had on their hands.

Happy Anniversary Illmatic!


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🌊Lost City🌊
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👀 Am California
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Kush & Orange Juice is one of the greatest mixtapes of all time.

If you disagree, you just weren’t there. We all only get that one moment at that one age with that one artist who dropped that one album which unquestionably defined that one summer. I’ll never forget it. “I don’t love them, I don’t chase ‘em, I duck ‘em.” Wiz was the man, that was his summer, and he made the kind of body of work that made that feeling contagious.

The energy shifted.

This was at a pivotal point in the genre when the new guard stepped up in clusters and planted their flags down on what we now know as the internet era of Hip Hop. It was a free for all and there were spots for the taking. That summer felt like a movie scored by Cardo, Sledgren, and Jerm; starring Wiz and all of us. This is one of the flyest bodies of work I’ve ever heard. I imagine Taylor Gang sitting around in a boardroom and on the whiteboard are the words “partying”, “smoking”, “fly clothes”, and “beautiful women.” This was music carefully crafted in a lab; the handful of scientists involved brought together for the sole purpose of creating the perfect sonic wake and bake. The whole thing is hazy, dream-like, bouncy, bright, groovy, expertly paced, and Wiz took off on it on pure charisma. He was a young and hungry artist who was always destined for stardom, this was his magnum opus, and he knew all of the above.

Hip Hop had a hand in revolutionizing the music industry in its collapse. The concept of free music was petrifying to anyone following the old model. Napster came through and crushed the buildings and somewhere in there mixtapes started to mean something different within the genre. All of a sudden rappers started dropping tapes that sounded like albums; some that were better than the major label releases of their year. Eventually, as the means of music consumption started to take on a new shape, Hip Hop artist realized music is just a tool to advertise an overarching brand. Kush & Orange Juice came free of charge but we buyed into the brand that is Wiz Khalifa and the lifestyle he packaged and delivered to us. He went number one (trending) on Google and Twitter and  got the top trending hashtag with #kushandorangejuice; the download link to his album on his Twitter. This meant something. Fast forward 8 years and the concept of free music and social media is a standard.

“Self made G, did everything on my own bruh.”

Mezmorized, The Statement, Spotlight, The Kid Frankie, Never Been, in the Cut, Visions, Still Blazin; there are actually too many classic tracks on here to name. They all culminate into the story of a young playboy taking flights to different cities, living out of his luggage, partying in hotels, falling asleep in designer clothes, and waking up to sold out shows. The way Wiz himself describes it feels like an Oceans 11 movie on wax. The heist was to figure out a way to smoke weed, be the coolest guy in the room, and get paid to do it. It was an instrumental streetwear drop. It was a musical sneaker release. It was a cool item to have and it sounded like how rocking some fly shit feels. And Taylor Gang packaged it in a way that was conducive to a changing industry. And I was there for it.

Happy Anniversary to Kush & Orange Juice!

Hip Hop is part contact sport.

Let’s not forget that. In 2006 Tip “T.I.” Harris had an aura around him that few in rap obtain. He wore the title King of the South like a campaign slogan years prior and unsurprisingly it ruffled feathers. Houston rapper Lil Flip was one of the first to challenge this self proclamation. Boldly rising to the occasion, T.I.’s response aligned so many stars in one moment you would think it was prophecy. He had a newborn son that year who he gave his namesake as well as the nickname “King.” They say that inspired the title of the album, as it was an album of growth, but if you ask me the whole thing felt like one big checkmate.

King him.

T.I. came into his own in 2006. Out of necessity he secured the throne by sheer willpower. That’s not to say he was a nobody before. With Southern rap’s unprecedented rise to dominance, a Jeezy or a Gucci Mane could be credited for ushering in the now popularized Trap sound. But many would credit Tip as the one who coined the term. He just came off of a hot streak. After a short hiccup of label issues following his 2001 debut I’m Serious, he hit the ground running. 2003’s Trap Musik and 2004’s Urban Legend spawned over half a dozen hit singles. And he was young. Still in his early 20’s, it was as if the title of every album he put out was a mission statement; an indication of his head space at any given point in time. Following a laundry list of run ins with the law, the album King seemed to come at a point when Tip put aside childish things.

Who could forget those horns? “What You Know,” King’s lead single felt like nothing short of an arrival on part of royalty: the soundtrack to a premeditated victory. T.I. as a brand came with some hard lined constrictions. As prolific a rapper, writer, performer, and hit maker as he was, it was all too gruff and too potent to escape the confines of the Trap he created. The self proclaimed Urban Legend had his eyes set on a new title. Tapped in to provide the soundtrack for his acting debut, ATL, he instead put his efforts toward a solo project meant to work in tandem with it. Never losing his edge, the old Tip Harris with all of his bravado-tinged drug talk is found on cuts like “Top Back”, “Undertaker”, or “I’m Talkin’ To You.” But he informally introduced another side to that coin that would be an integral part of the duality of his persona. The album provided cuts like “Why You Wanna”, “Stand Up Guy”, and “Goodlife” which felt less beanie and baggy denim and more designer shades and tailored suit. This album had chess pieces that would lead this convicted drug dealer from Bankhead to work with a former N’Sync front-man and have it make sense.

This is the album that silenced anyone questioning the man’s position. In 2004 Lil Flip reached his career high, enjoying the starts of what at that time looked like a flourishing career in pop music. He had a hit and a name like anyone else. Him mentioning T.I. in bad light wound up backfiring on him in the worst way, almost volunteering him to be a martyr for anyone in the South that felt any kind of way. We don’t talk enough about how scathing a response this album was. That lead single was a direct message to Flip, calling into question his authenticity and firing off direct threats to his safety; all while the entire country danced to it. The song spent 20 weeks on the charts, peaked at number 3 overall and number 1 on Hip Hop/R&B, went double platinum and won a Grammy. The album went gold its first week, platinum not long after, and the movie was critically acclaimed. T.I. had pop music, Hollywood, and the streets all in the palm of his hand simultaneously and though he fired off shots, his success could more than speak for itself. There are moments in rap where one artist has all of the juice. Tupac had ’96, Nas had ’01, 50 Cent had ’03, Lil Wayne had ’08, and so on. Great artists reach a moment in their career wherein the situation calls on them to step to the plate and do what needs to be done. And he did it.

Checkmate.

Happy Anniversary!


There is a very special class of artist in Hip Hop. It is a space that only those that master the craft occupy.  Tupac Shakur reached the soul’s boiling point and became something bigger than a mortal man; he became an idea. And as far as I’m concerned, it all started with Me Against the World.

Evolution is the mark of a true artist. In 1995 Tupac was just 4 years removed from his entrance into the rap game and at the tender age of 24, already dropped 3 albums, was in the midst of mobilizing streets all across the country, struck fear in mainstream America, and made a laundry list out of his rap sheet. Born from and raised by the Black Panthers and more specifically by Afeni Shakur, this man’s mission statement was clear. He was out here for Black people and he made it clear he was out here for Black women; and in a world so resistant to his energy regarding these communities, he was met with the most extreme of backlashes.

The title Me Against the World says it all.

He was hurt. People familiar with the man may be familiar with his now famous High School interview. A 17 year old Tupac is seen bright eyed, delicate in the way he carried himself, and soft to the touch in the way he spoke. In hindsight, hearing that young man’s take on the world made it obvious that he was bred as almost a mission statement; a reaponse to the evils of America already endured by a community. This was a Black boy already more articulate than most men, passionate as anyone in his age group but with the sharpness of any OG; but with a gentleness to him. He was young, optimistic, and hell bent on saving the world.  Then that boy met world, entered the rap game, and America’s response to that passion brought on an energy even someone as wise beyond their years as him couldn’t have fathomed.

His 4th album (3rd solo) went platinum while he was in prison. By then he had been beaten by Oakland PD, shot two drunk off duty cops in Atlanta, got robbed and shot by Black men he thought were connected to artists he considered the closest of friends, and was locked up due to a false claim by a Black woman on part of a conspiracy by other Black men he trusted. He was betrayed not only by those he considered enemies, but those he considered friends; those he went out of his way to protect and look out for. The very people that young boy in that interview so clearly loved and advocated for. He took not only the Black experience directly to the face, but the experience of a Black revolutionary. He was a force strong enough and smart enough to challenge the status quo and that status quo, no matter the body it manifested itself in the form of, came through to chop him down. To the point where it was just him. It was just him alone in that prison cell against the world.

As far as I’m concerned, this was the start of the Tupac we know and revere today. It was the begining of something almost uncomfortably introspective. His first single, Dear Mama, almost doubled as a letter from his prison cell as well as a boy returning to his mother after being beaten down by a cruel world. Songs like “So Many Tears,” “If I Die 2nite,” and “Lord Knows” had very open, honest, and blatant references to his own depression, feelings of being trapped, and even suicidal thoughts. I hear those tracks and I think about that 17 year old from that interview and the things his bright-eyed optimism was met with.

It was his most reflective album.

If you look at the climate of the genre today, it might not even be a big thing to hear an artist open up about their deepest and darkest personal stories. One might not bat an eyelash at someone openly admitting to their mother being a one-time crack fiend from the first person or say things like “if I wasn’t high, I’d probably try to blow my brains out.” Scanning through the zeitgeist of Hip Hop albums, I honestly can’t think of a time before that moment when a rapper pinpointed their own vulnerabilities to that degree. It was at this moment where ‘Pac became performance art. Knocked on his ass, he was forced to reboot who he was and how he approached life and we got to witness it in real time through his art. And as any fan would know, what happened after this album was an energy different from anything he brought to the table beforehand. This album was reflective, it was melancholy, it was personal, it was reminiscent; almost like the calm before the storm.

All Eyez On Me was more the equal and opposite reaction to all of the vile actions done to him that he build up in that prison cell. It was the all the anger he felt he needed to project once he got out. The 7 Day Theory had him assuming another role entirely, wielding that dark energy quite literally like a Machiavelli or Sun Tzu. As far as I’m concerned, those albums are all part of his unprescedented stride that formed a blueprint for artists that live alongside their music; that bring that fans with them into the unknown, with all of its highs and lows. There’s a famous quote by James Baldwin where he states that “to be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I think about that quote when I think about those last three albums before Tupac Shakur’s death. They are the documentation of a Black man’s emotions in reaction to the evils and bloody hands of America.

And it started with Me Against the World.

Happy Anniversary!

The Pack’s story is one of a natural born hustle.

I’m under the belief that Bay Area soil breathes for anybody that feels it. It whispers to anybody that hears it. It has a heartbeat. And there’s something about that soil that communicates some unspoken message to those walking on it and paying attention. Young L, Stunnaman, Lil Uno, and Lil B come from the legacy of Too $hort and E-40 to name so few; two of the Bay Area’s most celebrated rap titans who once walked this same soil selling their stories and their voices out of the backs of trunks. So when The Pack told me stories about being in their early teens and already plotting, I can’t help but think of that soil. Before they even saw any kind of bigger picture, they were four young boys possessed by the history they walked on.

We sat down to talk about their latest tees, hoodies, and Vans only for me to realize the music didn’t come before the clothing. When Young L and Stunnaman were just 14 or 15 they would take the bottom of their Air Forces, coat them with bleach, stomp them on pairs of jeans, then splatter paint on top of that. Streetwear and rapper-owned brands hadn’t reached the level of saturation you see today nor were they as bold and outside of the box. The way the Wolves would tell it, there wasn’t any kind of master plan behind what they were doing. They just did it. Sometimes they would even fill water guns with that bleach and spray it on denim, Uno continued.

“We were spraying people with bleach with the guns too”

They were young, you have to remember.

Siri then interjected from L’s iPhone, “OK, I found this on the web: bleach with a gun.” After tripping over how crazy that was and how far technology evolved, that minor interruption helped accent how forward thinking those young boys were with so few tools at their disposal. Back then all they had was hustle. Then Myspace surfaced. The record industry was still operating by old rules and for the first time in the genre a group surfaced purely by way of the Internet.

You would think there was a master plan.

Uno jumped right into the story like it just happened yesterday. It was a Friday night. L was wearing a red Super Mario track jacket with some red and white low-top Vans when this sound popped in his head. They all heard about a deal for golds in downtown Oakland, $10 a tooth, and decided to drive out from Albany. L took three minutes at most to lay down that sound he had in his head before burning it to CD and mobbing out. They gave the beat the whip test and Lil B said it first. “Got my Vans on, but they look like sneakers.” Uno, wearing some all white Forces, followed up with “wearing coke whites but my vans look cleaner.” These were just freestyles and as Stunnaman put it, at the time they didn’t even wear Vans for the fashion. They had other kicks more in line with that. Vans were just their go-to skating shoe and it was that skating culture that bound them all.

You would think they set out to change the lives of future generations of Black children.

Skateboarding wasn’t for us. Stunna remembers clearly the era they came up in. As kids, he and L were deep in the skate scene and its whole aesthetic was the polar opposite of Black culture. “It wasn’t cool” he said. “They were calling you Oreo, muhfuckas taking your skateboard.” It was a White boy thing and the fact that a Black kid entering such a space was so foreign to people goes to show the closed mindedness of that era. “Everybody made fun of the movement when we was kids,” Uno then said. “They laughed at how tight our clothes was…I mean, we wore baggy clothes too but like how punk-rockish or tight they were, how small the shirts was.” That’s when L chimed in.

“Being a skater, you almost look at everything different.”

Maybe my favorite thing about this interview was seeing the dynamic between these brothers. It is a dynamic you have to admire given the fact that they’ve been in the game for as long as they have and remained solid.  L sat silent for the beginning half of the interview. The dynamic was clear. Stunna never intended to rap and was more into the A&R side in the early stages of their come up. The way he speaks controls a room and he’s able to relay his thoughts both in a business pitch and an artistic summation seamlessly. Uno remembered vividly more the folklore of their whole come up and could tell you any story in great detail and with emotional context. L kicked back and let his brothers talk, almost marinating on everything before finally deciding to chime in with what I believe was the most poignant moment of the entire interview. “Being a skater you almost look at everything different.”

“You already know your life is a certain…sorta…risky,” he continued. “Even when you’re young and in fame, you’re gonna feel like your life is at risk similar to being a skater…me and Stunna was always risk takers.” And it’s that daring quality, that nerve, that gave them a certain insatiable drive to offer the culture something different.

At one point they were all split up. L went to school in Albany. Uno and B were in Berkeley while Stunna was in independent study which gave him the freedom to whip around and pop up anywhere. In addition to flooding their schools with their product, they would hit up San Francisco, Concord, Manteca, Stockton and anywhere else to sell their CD’s for whatever price they could. Sometimes Stunna would roll out in his girl’s car, sometimes they couldn’t get a car and opted to steal cars to make those treks. They were “pulling up and leaving stolos everywhere,” Stunna described. There’s really no dedication more thorough than that.

Everything that happened from then on was just simple math. I want you to picture it. These four Bay boys rolling out to downtown Oakland to cop some golds, a CD popped into the player playing a beat that would change their lives and freestyling words that would do the same. It was a natural inclination to innovate, plus an immovable hustle, plus the absolute nerve to be themselves. You take that equation and add in the advent of Myspace, and the rest is history.

 

I look at these young Black kids today. I see how little is in the way of their path to do what they want or be what they want, and the pre-established blueprint provided for them. I see that and I can’t help but think of those four Bay boys whipping it out to downtown Oakland. We could talk about how colorful skating culture is today, we could talk about how few racial barriers there are in fashion, we could talk about how many young artists of color went on to finesse the Internet out of millions of dollars in what became a social media industry. You just simply can’t take any of that away from those four young men. Right down to the producer tags.

Young L.” 

Big ups to The Pack!

Instagram:

@1youngl

@lilunowolfpack

@keithworld_

@lilbisgod

 

Shoutouts to @jxrdns for the flicks.

That tiger on those jackets though.

Eugene of Team Terrible had a shoot scheduled earlier in the day before our sit-down. It got postponed so instead he bought a kitten, as one does. I say that to say, just know throughout the course of this interview, it could be heard meowing, running on top of furniture and bodies, and clawing at its leisure: so just imagine that as you keep scrolling. The little guy had a fresh new environment and ahead of it a lot to get used to.

“I just hope he doesn’t fuck up my Air Max’s” Eugene thought out loud.

Coming alive under my camera flash, those jackets with that logo became a hot ticket item since the brand’s launch in 2013. But that’s not to say the spirit of them wasn’t bubbling inside of Eugene those years prior. After going on about everything from his memories of the street wear scene in the early 2000’s, to 90’s Hip Hop, Bay Area skateboard culture, and his love of vintage clothing, it makes sense how his own personal aesthetic eventually culminated itself into the form of a clothing brand. It’s inception wasn’t so much intentional though, he would explain. Matter of fact, if I had to force the comparison, it more or less started with him, too, getting used to a new environment and fucking shit up.

“We would go out, get drunk, and act crazy,” he described. “Team Terrible” was just something he and his friends would shout for no particular reason as they bar hopped. A San Francisco native, the cost of living in the city drove him to the East Coast and it was in Baltimore where the idea struck him to make team jackets for his small circle to get drunk and act crazy in. The way he frames the brand’s rise feels spontaneous and accidental. It was organic, but it hardly came out of thin air.

He worked at HUF starting around ‘05. Street wear had yet to reach the trendy heights it sits at now and the climate of the city was tangibly different. In hindsight that was the perfect time to be in the environment and soak things up. It was less about hype and more a genuine love. His coworkers were of similar minds, one being the owner of Black Scale, who around that time just started dipping his feet into clothing. He also worked at True around the time these brands the Haight is known for started gaining prominence. Back then there was more room for people to do their thing. At that point, Eugene was doing things like altering Starter jackets and sewing patches into them. He was a skateboarder and a hip hop head.

I asked him his top 10 rappers and he burst into laughter, struggling to narrow it down. The first name was Sean Price.

San Francisco “wants you to pay $1300 for a box…with rats in it,” he went on to describe. Out of necessity he found himself leaving what was becoming a more tech-oriented city and one night in Baltimore I suppose those years out here just clicked. When his friends back home laid their eyes on what was, in hindsight, the first run of Team Terrible jackets, that was the smoke. Then when he made a run of 15 jackets specifically for his SF friends and shipped them out, that was the fire. From there it was a wrap. The demand was so high, he decided to print some shirts with that same logo and they sold out online instantly. Jay-Z, Prodigy, Jadakiss, and Fabolous were the next rappers he started listing off.

Eugene’s based back in SF now. Having sold his product on shelves throughout California, Tokyo, and Mexico, he returned to the city after feeling it all out. With a lot more experience and knowledge of his surroundings, he talks about his future plans framed with all that he’s learned and everywhere he’s been. By now his brand pumped out bombers, tees, hoodies, coach jackets, and bucket hats among anything else that didn’t get mentioned. He’s gone off and tried different designs and styles and to this day that tiger logo is his hottest and most consistent item. The city is different now and so is the scene. I asked him if any current trends influence him or any of his upcoming ideas and his answer was an almost definite no. He has a very clear idea of what he likes and what his aesthetic is.

Common, Cam’ron, J.R. Writer, and Buckshot were the next names he listed.

The scene is over-saturated with brands at the moment and more than anything he’s focusing on staying consistent. He describes tigers as strong, respected, fierce, and outside of just simply loving the animal, there’s something about that strength and independence that I think is inherent of the brand’s character. He skates, collects vintage clothing, and turned his love of Starter jackets into a brand and he plans to keep doing him and staying true to himself. This is less about hype and more about genuine love. He struggled to name his tenth top rapper. Because it’s hard when you’re a real fan of it all.

“Snoop,” he threw out, making plans out loud to cop a vintage Snoop tee sometime soon.

What up, Team Terrible!